The Fifth Estate is watchable entertainment…”

I think some people misrepresent film critics as fact-checkers when it comes to films about historical events or current issues. Personally, I never use incorrect information as the flaw of a film unless it’s distractingly obvious. Films of the aforementioned like – say Argo, The Social Network, and Zero Dark Thirty – I analyze simply on entertainment value, actors, character, tone, and cinematography, give or take some specifics. Those are the areas a film critic should focus on. To report whether or not a film is accurate isn’t my job. I have a friend who followed the WikiLeaks case rather closely and I’d always find him looking at an article about it on the computer when I met up with him. I could shoot you his email if you wanted to know if The Fifth Estate was an accurate representation of the truth.

Having said that, the film is a merely adequate piece of entertainment and will only appeal to a fraction of the population the way I see it. I, personally, felt a wide release for this film was asinine, even if it was only about 1,700 theaters. I think the appeal of WikiLeaks was in its unexpected efforts and its breakneck way of releasing documents containing God knows what. I believe the appeal was held and the case followed by a select group of people, who made have found themselves peering into the National Security Association or Edward Snowden’s actions in present time. Why would those who followed the case want to travel out to a theater to see a film that has already been blasted as biased and inaccurate?

The Fifth Estate
Directed by
Bill Condon
Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Carice van Houten
Release Date
18 October 2013
Steve’s Grade: C

I’ll return to this point later. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, the founder of the website WikiLeaks, which relies on many sources (acting on anonymity, of course) to try and penetrate the darkest secrets of the U.S government and release confidential documents on the website for anyone to see. Daniel Brühl (star of “Rush,” which is also in theaters now) stars as the website’s former spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who tried to stick by Assange’s side, but often wound up at ends with him and his reckless, often impulsive methods that went about when leaking documents.

Director Bill Condon (who directed Kinsey, the marvellous biopic on sex psychologist Alfred Kinsey) and writer Josh Singer seem to have a very difficult time portraying the duo. Assange and Domscheit-Berg’s relationship is a definite muddle, and both men have very electric personalities that any writer and director would find difficult to portray on film. The issue is that Condon and Singer never truly realize how they want to show both men. Some have slammed this film as a personal attack on Assange, when I see it being, if anything, a bit more serving to him in the first and second acts. By the third act, the film rotates and apparently wants us to see him as manipulative and conniving, as if we didn’t see it before.

The reason this relationship crisis is more forgivable is thanks to the talent behind the characters. Benedict Cumberbatch is a splendid talent, fresh off of BBC’s Sherlock and making several big splashes in American cinema, showing off his versatility and character-actor potential. He shows Assange as deeply conflicted, easily frustrated, and well as quietly nervous in times of uncertainty. Brühl is more than a sidekick here, as he is given genuine times to shine as an actor, particularly when criticizing Assange’s dangerous actions. Recognizable faces such as Anthony Mackie and Stanley Tucci in addition, making this film at least a serviceable actor showcase.

Returning to the biased and inaccurate accusations this film has been branded with, small-scale research tells me “The Fifth Estate” is based on two books. One of which is “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website,” written by Domscheit-Berg and “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy,” penned by British journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. These books have apparently been disputed as biased accounts that reflect negative viewpoints of the website and Assange. Having not read the books, what does this say about the film itself? Say the project was meant to be a hatchet-job on Assange. Certainly people for the WikiLeaks site wouldn’t bother to see it. Now what about the people against WikiLeaks? I doubt many of them will care so much to sit for two hours and eight minutes to watch a film show what they already believe. Because of this, the film has virtually no audience I can see.

The Fifth Estate does stretch a bit beyond the capability of its cast as it’s only positive to make for at least a mildly intriguing globetrotting thriller, as Assange and Domscheit-Berg travel all over the world in hopes of cracking secrets and leaking information about specific institutions everywhere in the world. This globetrotting addition adds to the suspense of the film, which you would assume be at rock bottom levels. By the end of the film, I was surprised by how involved I had become in the last thirty minutes, thanks to a surge in suspense and the constant feeling that you have no idea what country you will end up in next for what reason.

I’ll finish my job brazenly. The Fifth Estate is watchable entertainment, intriguing, filled with very solid performances, and saved from being labeled as “dated” thanks to the current “war on whistleblowers.” It’s just a shame it’s not more compelling and aware of a wider audience.

Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic

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